This is the haul ANNE DIAMOND bought online. She admits: My web addiction is killing the High street

My love of internet shopping started innocently enough when, some years ago, I discovered eBay — although I was in total ignorance of how it worked. I’d decided I wanted to mark an approaching milestone birthday by treating myself to a long-desired baby grand piano. Knowing I could only stretch to a second-hand one, I wondered if I could find one nearby.

Let’s leave aside the fact that, as a total beginner, I had no idea how eBay worked — including that if you bid on something, you have a real chance of winning it and are then committed to buying it.

So I began bidding on three pianos at once and almost became the accidental — not to mention broke — owner of a trio of baby grands (until, luckily, one of my sons intervened and bailed me out).

You’d think this experience would have put me off internet purchases for life, but not at all — and I’ve got much better at it since then.

In fact, that baby grand was the dawn of a new online shopping era for me. Before long, my online piano purchase had been joined by grocery shops, then a steady stream of clothes, shoes and handbags.

It wasn’t long before I’d almost stopped traipsing to actual, bricks-and-mortar High Street shops.

Online shopping seemed to offer a solution to all the reasons I’d always loathed shopping.

Anne Diamond at home in Buckinghamshire is ‘sincerely beginning to worry that I should have more of a social conscience about my online shopping habit’

Why would I choose to stagger about, arms straining under a load of awkward carrier bags full of impulse purchases, negotiating other people’s elbows and trying to remember where I’d parked the car, only to fight my way home through a traffic jam to find I’d already gone off half the stuff?

Still, I convinced myself that there was some enjoyment to be had from occasionally meeting a friend for coffee, before hitting the shops together in search of that special outfit.

And, in those early days of internet shopping, sending stuff back was still a clunky, time-consuming and often expensive process.

As a result, I am ashamed to admit that I do have quite a few items in my wardrobe — five sun hats, six pairs of glasses and even a small laptop — that I simply forgot to return within the time limit (though, of course that’s what eBay is for!)

Until recently, acquiring stuff and committing the crime of failing to send it back was my biggest problem with online shopping.

Undoubtedly, the game-changer for me came when companies started to make it so much easier to return those purchases you didn’t want or need.

Suddenly, all you had to do was seal it back up and take it to the Post Office or newsagent’s or, joy of joys, hand it over to a courier.

And that was the death knell for going to a physical shop, as far as I was concerned.

There’s almost nothing I haven’t bought online. The weekly grocery drudge, trawling from shop to shop for everything from wallpaper and paint to white goods and curtain poles have all been avoided by my having them delivered after a brief browse.

Even my beloved dog, Ellie, has her food, treats and, recently, even a new bed delivered from her very own version of Ocado, called Fetch.

I sit at home, in the comfort of my living room, virtual window shopping in glorious high definition.

With just a couple of clicks, I buy almost anything — and let the strain of getting it from A to B fall on someone else’s shoulders.

The thrill of one-click and buy-now, and the resulting delivery of parcels to your door, can make you feel as though it’s Christmas every day.

But, while that may be delightful, it’s dangerous. It’s not just that it’s all too easy to spend too much money on things you don’t need.

No — now I’m sincerely beginning to worry that I should have more of a social conscience about my online shopping habit.

For example, where I used to live in Oxford, there was a brilliant little independent clothing boutique, run with flair and pride by the woman who owned it. She was always there, behind the till, ready to chat and talk fashion. Her shop window was meticulously and artistically arranged to showcase her new wares and she welcomed all her customers as old friends, instinctively knowing what would flatter each of them best.

But last time I visited, she was almost in tears because the council had decided to build on the adjacent car park, robbing her and all of the other local stores of a steady footfall of shoppers.

This, she feared, combined with expensive business rates, spelt a looming end for her business.

Suddenly, I felt guilty about the stream of online, chain-bought clothing arriving at my front door.

Closing Down Sale posters in shop window of store Twenty One at Fleetwood in Lancashire. Shoppers are turning to online stores with worrying frequency 

Closing Down Sale posters in shop window of store Twenty One at Fleetwood in Lancashire. Shoppers are turning to online stores with worrying frequency 

And then the recent news that House of Fraser is to close 31 stores across the UK rapidly sobered me up from the giddy rush of my never-ending online shopping sprees.

Over the past decade, there has been a huge change in UK shopping habits, with nearly £60 billion spent via phones and tablets in 2017 — a figure that equates to more than £1 in every £6 spent on the High Street.

Former Iceland chief executive and retail expert Bill Grimsey, who campaigns to protect the future of the High Street, has made repeated claims about the decimation of town centre shops, predicting that around 50,000 will close in the next few years.

As the Centre for Retail Research put it recently: ‘2018 will probably be the worst year for bad retail news since the recession in 2008, when Woolworths collapsed.

‘In the first 100 days of 2018, 18 large and medium-sized retail companies collapsed into administration involving almost as many stores and certainly more job losses than in the whole of 2017.’

Some retail experts are warning that one million jobs could be lost in five years if this trend continues.

But while the likes of Amazon, Asos and Boohoo are booming online, I guess we all have to ask ourselves what sort of community we want outside our front doors and whether or not shops should be part of that traditional tapestry.

If it’s a case of ‘use it or lose it’, then the millions of shoppers like me, who have been converted to online purchases, may have to think again.

I’m positive that if any of us were stopped in the street by someone doing a survey and asked: ‘How much do you value your High Street?’ we’d all answer that we value it highly.

We’d say that we love our shops, the quirky boutiques, the corner grocery stores, off-licences, the little pharmacy around the corner and so on.

But do we love them so much that we would actually stop shopping online and head back to our High Street out of social conscience? Amazingly, the way is being led by some of our older citizens, who are not technophobic, but are acting on their conscience. They are what is recognised in the retail industry as ‘conscious consumers’.

Instead of just thinking about convenience, they think about where their products are coming from, who has produced them and the effect their purchase makes on society. A recent study by the University of Lancaster found that while it’s often said the older generation won’t use the internet because they’re scared of technology, the real reason many shun the online world is over fears it will take business from local shops and services.

Also — correctly, it turns out — they think that using websites to buy groceries and goods will spark store closures and lead to technologies replacing jobs for their grandchildren. The report is based on two decades of research into older people and technology. Charmingly, it reveals a ‘strong sense of social responsibility’ in senior citizens who refuse to move their lives online.

More and more shoppers are using the internet to buy. As a result, in the first 100 days of 2018, 18 large and medium-sized retail companies collapsed into administration

More and more shoppers are using the internet to buy. As a result, in the first 100 days of 2018, 18 large and medium-sized retail companies collapsed into administration

There’s even a movement called Standing Up 4 Sitting Down, which is campaigning for the High Street to be made more attractive to older shoppers by installing more seating, with the added effect of reducing loneliness, by encouraging impromptu chatting and lingering.

One pensioner interviewed for the study was worried when the receptionist at her sports centre was replaced with a booking app. Another didn’t want to pay for her road tax online because she wanted to ‘keep the Post Office open’.

It’s brilliant that their loyalty is so strong. But, as yet, I’m ashamed to say, I don’t feel strongly enough to act in the same way myself and I’m sure I’m far from alone. I still renew my road tax in the evening, with a simple out-of-hours click on my keyboard. Should I rethink? Maybe — but, regardless, the convenience triumphs.

Yet, while so many of us click, the High Street burns — for it’s not just House of Fraser announcing closures. Enormous, seemingly unassailable and powerful High Street brands such as Mothercare, Maplin, Toys R Us, New Look and Marks & Spencer have either already closed down stores or are suffering.

Beyond the retail sector, our mass migration to online shopping now affects banks, building societies, travel agents and estate agents because so much of their business has transferred to the internet.

With all of these imminent closures, what will be left? What will our town and city centres look like 50 years from now?

Much as I love internet shopping, I know I’m part of a generation that’s sleepwalking into disaster.

It’s not just the internet’s fault — there are so many other factors, from business rates to issues with parking and traffic congestion.

Maybe we should be calling on local government chiefs for a strategy that will protect our local High Streets.

Some argue that it’s not destruction, but evolution, and that apart from the obvious and terrible loss to those whose jobs are axed, the High Street will evolve.

It’s true that there are some ‘experience spaces’ opening where traditional shops used to be. Places to sip and eat while watching live cookery demonstrations or fashion shows — apparently, even John Lewis staff are having expert theatre training to help them offer more enriched customer service.

For my part, if I want to be entertained, I’ll book tickets (online, of course) and go to the actual theatre, thanks.

But if I, and hundreds of thousands of people like me, are to eschew ‘freshly clicked’ shopping and instead venture out into the fresh air, then we need easy parking, great and cheap (or even free) public transport and, yes, lots more seats to sit down and rest our weary feet.

The bottom line is this: give me and the millions like me an incentive to go back to the High Street. Because I don’t want my generation to be responsible for contributing towards people’s loneliness and a future where our town and city centres are dead space — the few lost souls still there walking around like zombies.